England rugby: Thugs playing a thugs' game

This article may contain traces of sports-related nationalist bias and begrudgery

The Times sports pages this week have been running a series of revelations about behind-the-scenes behaviour by England players during this year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

For some of us, the revelations contained in leaked reports that England rugby’s senior players were boorish, arrogant and money-grubbing came as no great surprise.

Irish people who take these things seriously (i.e. me) remember the 2003 Six Nations incident where then captain (and 2011 World Cup team boss) Martin Johnson stood his team in the wrong place, thereby forcing the Irish president to divert from her usual red carpet route while greeting the teams before the match.

Gamesmanship, one might say. But gamesmanship should take place in the game, and should not involve disrespecting the opposing team’s head of state. Thuggery.

The players’ reaction to the stories of late-drinking and training-ground shirking has been equally unsavoury, from whinging that other teams (such as Ireland) went to the pub too (probably, but weren’t stupid or arrogant enough to get caught dwarf tossing and getting intimate with women they were not married to), to now, in a move of astounding chutzpah, engaging the notorious Schillings law firm in an attempt to force The Times to reveal its sources, cease publishing stories from the source, and delete existing stories from its website.

I don’t really expect Lewis Moody et al to be fully up to speed on protection of sources, journalistic integrity and the rest, but what one does expect, what we are constantly told to expect from rugby union, is gentlemanly conduct. And part of this must surely involve admitting to your mistakes, rather than shooting the messenger.